CA Trust, Estate & Probate Litigation

CA Trust, Estate & Probate Litigation

When California Trust No-Contest Clauses Apply…And When They Don’t

Posted in Litigation, Videos

There is much confusion regarding the use, and misuse, of no-contest clauses.  No-contest clauses rarely apply, and they never apply to a beneficiary who questions the actions and management of the Trust by the Trustee.  In this video,  attorney Keith Davidson describes when no-contest clauses do not apply.

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Trustee Surcharge: Holding Trustee’s Liable for Bad Acts

Posted in Trustee Breach of Trust, Videos



In California, Trustee’s have a host of duties and obligations they must abide by.  When a Trustee breaches his duty as Trustee, he is liable for money damages equal to the harm he causes.  This is called a Trustee surcharge.  In this video, Stewart R. Albertson discusses Trustee surcharge.

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The Most Important Question for Your California Trust and Will Lawsuit

Posted in Litigation, Videos

California’s Form Interrogatory 15.1 is probably the most important question you will ever ask in your Trust or Will lawsuit.  Why?  Because it requires the opposing party to tell you all facts, witnesses and documents they have to oppose your Petition in Court.  In this video, Stewart Albertson describes Form Rog 15.1 and why it is such an effective question.

For our email subscribers, please click on the title link to watch this video on our blog.

What Are You Waiting For? Don’t sit on your rights to contest a California Trust or Will

Posted in Trusts, Wills

If you think you have been wrongly disinherited from an estate, please do me a favor and act quickly.  I cannot tell you how many people I have talked to who have great claims, or rather HAD great claims, only to find out that they waited too long to bring a lawsuit to enforce their rights in Court.  The statute of limitations (that pesky set of laws that sets time limits to bringing lawsuits) can have harsh results.

The problem in Trust and Will matters if that there are a number of different (often conflicting) statutes of limitations at play.  For example, let’s say you have an agreement with a decedent to leave you property in a Will, but the Will was never created.  That is a contract right, but it must be brought within a year of the decedent’s death.  If you were disinherited from a Trust, you may have a very long time before you have to bring a lawsuit, UNLESS you are served with Trustee’s notice, in which case your statute of limitations is limited to 120 days.

Have a problem with a Trustee?  You might have an unlimited amount of time to bring a claim, or you might have three years, it all depends on whether you were provided enough information to know (or where you should have known) you had a claim against the Trustee.  On the other hand, if a Trustee files for Court approval of a Trust accounting, and you do not object to the accounting, then you are forever barred from contesting the Trustee’s actions as reported in the accounting.

Not only does the statute of limitations bar your claim, there’s also the equitable doctrines of Laches, which is a legal doctrine that allows a court to stop a lawsuit where a party waited too long to file it.  Laches is based on fairness and where a party waits beyond what is a “reasonable” amount of time, then the lawsuit can be thrown out.

Confused yet?  You should be, it is a very confusing area to deal with.

The bottom line: act swiftly.  If you think you have been given a raw deal, then take action now.  My favorite potential client call of all time: “Hi, my mom died in 1975 and I want to contest the distribution of her estate”…What!!??  1975 was a while ago, why wait so long?

If you do not take action, then be forewarned, you may be giving up your rights whether you like it or not.

Ontario Office

Ontario, California 91764
909.466.1711 phone
909.354.3460 fax

How to Use a Financial Elder Abuse Claim in Your California Trust or Will Contest

Posted in Abuse & Fraud, Elder Abuse, Videos

When you bring a Will or Trust contest the facts you use to overturn an unfair Will or Trust may also apply to support a Financial Elder Abuse claim.  It is important to know how to use a Financial Elder Abuse claim properly.

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Can Your Ex-Spouse Inherit Your Property in California?

Posted in Trustees & Beneficiaries, Videos

Under California law ex-spouses are entitled to receive your life insurance benefits if you fail to change your beneficiary form after dissolution of your marriage.  But there are other assets where an ex-spouses rights are automatically terminated after divorce.  In this video, Keith Davidson describes when an ex-spouse can receive your assets.

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Hello San Francisco Bay Area: Our Newest Office Opens in the Heart of Silicon Valley

Posted in Our Attorneys, Tips & Links

Hey San Francisco Bay Area…here we come.  We are getting flowers in our hair and ready to fight hard for clients on Trust and Will litigation issues in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here is the text of our recent news release announcing the opening of our newest office:

San Francisco SkylineWe are pleased to announce the grand opening of our new San Francisco Bay Area office, which is set to open October 1, 2014. “The opening of the Bay Area office expands both the physical and virtual reach in order to better serve California residents who have trust and estate litigation needs”, said founding partner Stewart R. Albertson.

The firm also created a Bay Area website,, that provides visitors with a wealth of information about the firm, as well as a regularly-maintained blog intended to educate potential clients on matters related to Trust and Will Contests, Abused Trust Beneficiary litigation, and Financial Elder Abuse litigation. Additionally, having a Bay Area-focused website will allow the firm to better connect with its current and potential client base in the San Francisco market.

The new bricks-and-mortar office will be located at 555 Twin Dolphin Dr., Ste 130 in Redwood City,–right in the middle of Silicon Valley—providing current and potential clients with easy access from the Bayshore freeway. “The opening of the Bay Area office will give Albertson & Davidson a significantly expanded reach along the California coastline, as we already have offices in Carlsbad and Ontario, allowing us to serve the San Diego and Los Angeles communities”, said founding partner Keith A. Davidson. The firm’s expansion into the San Francisco Bay Area legal market will provide residents access to high quality legal counsel and representation in several areas related to Trust and Will contests, Abused Trust Beneficiary litigation, and Financial Elder Abuse litigation.

We are looking forward to serving the residents of the Bay Area!

Money, family, love, and Wills: Where does it all end for Anna Nicole Smith’s Estate?

Posted in Litigation reported recently Anna Nicole Smith’s Will contest case may be over…or maybe not so fast.  This mess of a case started nearly 19 years ago after the death of J. Howard Marshall.

A Good Old-Fashioned Will Contest Case—Texas Style

The case started as a Will contest, pitting Anna Nicole Smith against Mr. Marshall’s son, Pierce Marshall.  The Texas Court then ruled in favor of Pierce, leaving Ms. Smith out in the cold.

Bankruptcy Court Interferes by Claiming Interference

Before the Texas court could rule on the Will contest, Anna Nicole Smith filed for Bankruptcy in California, which gave her California Bankruptcy Trustee the power to pursue claims on her behalf.  And pursue they did, with a lawsuit filed in the California Bankruptcy Court directly against Pierce for intentionally interfering with Ms. Smith expected inheritance.  The California Bankruptcy Court ruled in favor of Ms. Smith to the tune of $425 million, later reduced to $90 million.

How is it possible that one court could rule for Ms. Smith while the other ruled against her?  Mainly because the two courts were looking at completely different legal claims.  The Texas court had to decide if the Trust and Will created by Howard prior to his death were valid or not.  While the California Bankruptcy court had to decided if Pierce (the son) intentionally interfered with Ms. Smith receiving an inheritance from her elderly husband, Howard.  One is a lawsuit about the Trust and Will creation, while the other is a lawsuit by Ms. Smith directly against Pierce.

U.S. Supreme Court Cuts Anna off at the Pass

Ultimately, the $90 million judgment was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court for various legal reasons, leaving Ms. Smith, or rather her estate now that she is deceased, out in the cold once again.

Interestingly, when this entire case started in the California Bankruptcy Court, back in 2002 or so, California law did not recognize the tort of Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance (the tort Ms. Smith used to sue Pierce directly).  So how did that claim come to be filed?  The Bankruptcy Court used Texas law to allow the suit against Pierce.  Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Bankruptcy Court overstepped its bounds by ruling in Anna Nicole Smith’s favor, thereby reversing the holding.

The Texas Rodeo is not Over Yet

But all is not lost for Anna’s estate, as there is still an appeal of the Texas Court’s ruling to uphold the Trust and Will.  Somehow that appeal had been put on hold until the Bankruptcy Court finished its business with Anna’s estate.  Now that the Bankruptcy Court is done, the Texas appeal can continue.  But the issues will be limited to the Trust and Will contest, as opposed to the interference claim that was pursued in Bankruptcy Court.

The Moral of the Story

With big money, and complicated family (or rather “family”) dynamics, comes big fights.  And it seems like some estates are destined for a fight no matter what planning is put into place.  Here’s a few lessons I derive from Anna Nicole Smith’s case:

1.  Never Give Up…Intentional Interference Claims.  Just because you cannot bring or win a Trust contest does not mean you have no rights.  The newly recognized claim in California of Intentional Interference with an Inheritance can provide a needed legal remedy to the problem of having someone interfere with your inheritance.  Want to learn more, see my prior post explaining this interesting claim.

2.  No Seriously, Never Give Up…Trust Appeals.  Trust and Will contests are not appealed all that often as compared to many other types of civil cases.  And it is rare in California for an Appellate Court to overturn the decision of the trial court, but appeal is always an option to consider if things don’t go your way at trial.  Plus, it may give you an option to negotiate a settlement if a resolution can be reached between the parties voluntarily.  If not, then at least you get one more shot at winning–albeit a long shot in most cases.

3.  What’s Principal Got to do with it?  Both Anna Nicole Smith and Pierce Marshall died during the 19 years it took to get this far in their Trust dispute.  What may have started over a fight based on principal (they each thought there were right) seems to have stretched the reasonably boundaries of that concept after 19 years.  Principal is important to most people, but as one client of mine said, principal has its outer boundaries.  When the finances of a case no longer make any sense relative to the principal being fought over, you really have to ask why keep going?  After 19 years of litigation and not a penny to show for it on the side of Anna Nicole Smith, is it really worth continuing the fight?  That’s not for me to answer, but at least I can pose the question.

Trustee Exculpation: Letting a California Trustee Off the Hook

Posted in Trustee Breach of Trust, Trustee Removal, Videos

In California, a Settlor can limit the liability of a Trustee by including Trust provisions that make the Trustee liable only in the event he acts recklessly or with gross negligence.  That may not sound significant, but it can have a devastating result when a beneficiary is trying to hold a Trustee accountable for his actions in managing the Trust estate.  In this video, Keith Davidson describes the Trustee exculpation problem.

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